Crossed Eagle

Chapter 23

“Ugh, damned ice.”

“Oh, Captain Cormac, I thought you said the Morrigan could cut through anything.”

“Be quiet.”

Selah only giggled quietly, enjoying the vengeance of teasing Shay. Not only had she been confined to the Morrigan for weeks straight, she had to be confined when the climate steadily became harsher and harsher. Now it was unbearably cold. At least to her. According to Gist, conditions only grew worse further on, that Fogo Island only was moderate being compared. She doubted that, as for the past several days, the Morrigan had been cutting through miles of ice sheets.

Never once did Selah relax during such. Her entire world trembled and the deafening cracks and thunders constantly assaulted her ears. Said nothing when she would go below deck, only for occasionally the hull to buck inwards. While the teenager had been pushed near a panic attack several times, the crew didn’t give a care in the world, casually going on with work. Selah swore her teeth were officially cracked from grinding together and she found splinters in her hands from gripping the wood.

Finally it came to a stop when the Morrigan was snatched by some particularly stubborn ice. Selah secretly never felt so relieved. Meanwhile Shay let out an exasperated sigh as he released the wheel. Gist simply shrugged with folded arms.

“Well, Fogo is known for her ice,” the frontiersman commented.

“We need to find another route,” Shay ordered. “We can’t move forward and the Morrigan can’t stay here.”

Gist nodded solemnly in agreement. “The Morrigan’s a sitting duck if she’s caught. I’ll send out the men to start digging through the ice.”

Shay nodded as he stepped away. Selah followed his gaze to see the dark silhouette of land only around a mile out. The shore was towered with cliff sides and sharp hills of dark, cold rock. Even from here with overcast sky, Selah could still see the layer of ice frozen across the soil. The teenager subconsciously shivered and thick cloud formed from her breath. Suddenly Shay’s voice suddenly broke her thoughts.

“We’re close enough to land that I’ll continue on by my own,” the Templar announced. “Take the Morrigan around, Gist.”

“By your word, Captain,” the first mate hummed obediently.

Selah’s eyebrows shot up as she looked back to the shore. There was nothing but ice between the ship and the island! Shay seriously thinking that was a good idea? The girl neared the captain before he could near the railing more.

“You sure that’s wise?” she pried.

“You have a better idea?” Shay retorted.

Selah looked to Gist for help, but to her disappointment, the man only shrugged. “It looks strong enough to me.”

“If you’re so worried about me, you could accompany me.”

The Assassin shot the captain a glare. “I am not.”

“Stay here with Gist, then.”

Something in the girl disliked that idea immediately. Selah despised the thought of staying on the Morrigan anymore and if it meant traveling through more ice…

“Fine, I’ll go!” the teenager wailed.

“Better stay close,” Shay advised. He looked to Gist, who was watching with an amused gaze. “Take care of the ship, Chris.”

The quartermaster gave an obedient nod. With great agility, Shay leapt off the deck onto the pure-white ice sheet in less than a blink of an eye. Selah couldn’t stop the groan that escaped as she neared the railing. Immediately she stopped dead, her feet planting themselves on the wood. Shay was oblivious as he was already moving away, walking on the false shore like it was solid land. There was no way…

“Are you coming?” the captain suddenly called.

Selah let out another groan before relenting. With a grunt, she swung herself over the side and landed on the ice. Immediately her legs felt weak and her heart leaped when she heard the cracking ice bucking beneath her. With a swallow, the Assassin forced herself to move forward, already hearing Gist yelling orders to the crew.

Selah followed Shay a few paces behind him, her steps wobbly. She jumped every time she heard the ice shift, whether it was under her feet or from the Morrigan. She barely heard the crew yelling as they jumped on the ice as well with ropes and axes to free their ship from her prison. Selah closed her eyes and tried to regulate her breathing.

“Shay…” she whined.

He didn’t even look back. “You’ll be fine. Follow my footsteps.”

The girl opened her eyes to see the man left a trail of small impressions from his boots, which Selah didn’t hesitate to trace. If the ice could hold his weight. It felt like eternity before they finally reached the black soil of the shore. Selah wanted to collapse on her knees and kiss the ground, but stayed on her still shaky legs when she noticed Shay was continuing on.

“See? Not so bad,” the Irishman assured.

“Be quiet.”

The Templar only chuckled under his breath. Meanwhile Selah glanced back to see the crew had already dug out the Morrigan, the sloop-of-war even turned around and cutting back out of the ice, the white chunks flying everywhere.

“You think they’ll be okay?” she wondered.

“Gist’s more seaworthy than he looks,” Shay replied. “She’s in good hands.”

Selah looked back and continued to follow him as he climbed onto the rocks. “How long have you sailed?” she wondered.

“Since I was lad working for my father.”

“He sailed, too?”

“He was a sea merchant from Ireland.”

“I assume you were born there as well?”

“No. New York.”

Selah blinked. Shay was American? The girl could’ve sworn he was an immigrant. However, now that she thought about it, his accent didn’t seem as thick as she first thought. It was distinctly Irish, but it owned a different emphasis than someone who lived on the mainland.

“Careful, these rocks are slippery,” the Templar warned.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, because just as he said the words, Selah’s foot slipped on the boulder she happened to step on. The girl grumbled before carefully righting herself, clambering up the next rock. Finally the two scaled the uneven terrain, Shay then slipping through a crevice that led further up the shore. Selah followed him, but by now her hands were numb from the cold and her teeth chattered slightly. However on the other side would make her misery much worse.

Instead of more land, there was an icy bay. The ocean water slipped between two guarding rocks to create a lake-like body of water. And unlike being completely frozen over like the open ocean, the ice was broken up in blue chunks with black water filling the crevices between them. Apparently the towering rocks protecting the bay from the harsh conditions or the water was “warmed” from the heat of land, not allowing it to completely freeze. This was as close as it could get.

Selah looked around for around route, only to see with horror that the cliffs around them were too sheer. Shay must have noticed as well. He hummed.

“It looks like we’ll have to cross,” he decided.

Selah snapped her gaze at him. “Are you mad?”

“The bay’s shallow. And sometimes the ice keeps the water warmer than the air.”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

Shay rolled his eyes. “Just follow me.”

Without warning, the ex-Assassin plopped into the water with a splosh. Selah jumped away from any frozen droplets that could near her. The ice came to just below his hips, allowing him to wade across relatively easily. Meanwhile Selah did not budge. She would rather walk on the ice than this! They’ll freeze to death! No. The Assassin didn’t care if it was cowardly, as long as she could have a sane mind.

“Shay!” she called, wanting to tell him her protests.

The Templar ignored her, sloshing through the water like he was walking on solid land. Selah surrendered and looked from him to the black, dense water licking the soil near her boots. The poor girl made a pathetic squeak before summoning courage with closed eyes and jumping to the water.

The Assassin apprentice was going to scream, but instead all her breath was ripped away from her. It wasn’t because she felt the cold. Instead she felt as though a thousand needles had pierced her skin all at once. Waves of pain coursed from her legs up to the rest of her body, quickly replaced by freezing cold that froze her blood and planted her in place. The mild chattering of Selah’s teeth intensified to uncontrollable trembling and her body shivered madly. Any clear thought was replaced by only the sensations of cold and pain. She wasn’t even fully in the water!

“Selah, move,” Shay’s demanding voice came.

Finally his order was like a slice of sanity in her mind that anchored the girl back to reality. Move. Keep the blood flowing. It would provide warmth. With a heavy swallow, Selah forced a numb leg forward. It was slow and wobbly, mostly because she couldn’t feel it, but the water kept it suspended. Selah hissed as it came to her waist, having her lower body being completely submerged. The Assassin took a deep breath, making a note that she had to regulate her breathing. Her progress was much slower than Shay’s, who was almost on the other side of the bay. Meanwhile Selah took one step per half-minute.

Move. Breathe. Move. Pain. Breathe. Cold. Move. Pain. Cold.

Immediately the teenager shook her head. No, she couldn’t think about her discomfort. It would worsen and she would be frozen in place again. She had to keep her mind distracted. Selah looked back up the Shay, watching his controlled, powerful movements.

How was he not hindered by this? Selah could only guess between his time with the Assassins and Templars and sailing in northern waters, he had been exposed to harsh elements thousands of times. He was probably immune to it by now. She even saw it on the Morrigan, how the Templar would receive a frigid gale that would freeze his re-growing whiskers and he wouldn’t even flinch. Maybe that was how strong he was. He was, though.

Broad-shouldered, solid build, tall. His brawl at the tavern proved his prowess well enough. Selah felt a strange sense of envy and admiration. She wanted to be like him. She was tired of crying and whining and failing every time something went wrong. Even if he was a traitor, Shay was the Assassin Selah always wanted to be. She certainly wanted his conviction, knowing what path to take, while the girl still quarreled over what her ideals were.

And he was… handsome. Especially with that scar... Selah wondered how he got it. Probably from some engagement with an enemy or bar fight. The teenager wasn’t foolish, though, knowing he was literally twice her age. But maybe…

Immediately the Assassin shook her head. Where was this coming from? She wanted to be distracted, not wandering! It must be the cold… Selah wanted to believe that, but now suddenly she felt a strange sense of warmth and a sudden fear that she might be blushing. The girl shook her head again. It was her body deceiving her. She had been told more than once—especially by James—that sometimes when the body grew too cold, the person would feel a sudden heat. Did that mean she was dying?

Whatever it was, during her daydreaming, Selah had crossed the bay, returning to reality to find the shore a matter of feet away. A wave of relief coursed through her and she almost cried in joy. Shay was already climbing up onto the bank, his legs stiff in the slightest way. Instead of continuing on, the man paused and turned around, waiting for her. Selah was only a few moments behind him, throwing water into the air as she climbed onto the soil.

The water no longer providing a cocoon, the girl immediately wobbled on the land, having no feeling in her limbs. She probably would’ve fallen if Shay hadn’t caught her. Selah steadied when he snatched her arm, but didn’t apply any painful pressure like before. The girl barely registered it, too busy shivering and chattering. All she wanted to do was to stop standing—to lie down. Possibly take a nap. Her legs couldn’t support her and the Assassin had to stop herself from leaning on Shay.

“Move your legs,” the Templar ordered. “It’ll restore the blood flow.”

Selah just now noticed despite her trembling, she hadn’t moved a muscle. With a swallow, the teenager painfully lifted a frozen leg to bend it underneath her. The way she swayed, she knew she would’ve fallen balancing on one leg, if Shay wasn’t keeping her upright. She switched between legs, swinging and bending them several times before finally the waves of numbness began to subside. Now the sensation of biting cold pricked at her legs and her skin stung painfully. Nonetheless, Selah let out a sigh of both stress and relief.

“Can you walk?” Shay’s voice came. Selah looked to up see legitimate concern in his eyes, lips tugged in a solemn frown.

“Y-yes,” the girl managed. “What about you? Aren’t you cold?”

“I’m bigger than you.”

Selah could only nod, somewhat understanding. After a few moments, Shay cautiously let go, allowing Selah to stand on her own. She still felt unsteady, but at least she was still upright. The Assassin nodded to Shay, allowing him to return the gesture and continue on.

They traveled up a path through the rocks, white snow crunching beneath their feet. Eventually Selah felt blood returning to her legs, having her movements slowly return to her control. She followed Shay obediently, deciding she no longer minded his presence. Soon however, the man being taller and being ahead, he noticed something she didn’t. Shay automatically doubled over, waving a hand at Selah to do the same. The girl obliged.

Like a stalking predator, Shay moved toward where the path ended at an outcrop, settling down near the edge. Selah mimicked him and laid next to him. What she saw made her breath caught in her throat.

It was undoubtedly a supply camp, cargo of all kinds spread all over. A couple of large tents and fire were set up between the supplies, providing solace from the climate of the camp’s occupants. Moving between the piles of cargo were smugglers, adorning ragged clothing and wicked weapons. None of them looked particularly healthy, either. Selah quickly counted there was at least a dozen or so. But it was hard to tell with all the materials in the way. It was like two warehouses of the one she had visited were packed in the small area.

“Well, at least we know we’re at the right place,” Selah muttered. Only pirates that have been constantly on the hunt could have gotten this much.

“They’ve been busy, that’s for sure,” Shay agreed. The former Assassin peered at the bay next to the camp. “I don’t see a ship. They must be waiting for their mates to come back.”

“Should we wait?”

“No. It’ll take too long and more of ‘em to deal with.”

It took a moment for Selah to process what he said. Her eyes went wide and she shot him a glare. “You’re not thinking—”

Shay only replied with a challenging glare of his own. “You’re working for the Templars now. Remember we approach things differently.”

Selah clenched her jaw, but reluctantly realized he had a point. And she learned from her argument with Haytham that protesting on the subject led nowhere. With a sigh, the Assassin surrendered.

Seeing she wasn’t going to protest, Shay went on. He nodded to the left. “Go over there while I’ll circle around. Don’t move until I give the signal.”

“What will that be?”

“You’ll see.”

Without another word, the Assassin Hunter slipped away, avoiding patches of snow so his black cloak could blend into the dark rocks. Selah gave another sigh before going her own direction. Thankfully the outcrop rose above the smugglers, so they couldn’t see her. The Assassin stalked a few more paces before looking over to see a convenient pile of hay next to the supplies. It was most likely there from being tossed aside for packaging. It had been there for a while too—a layer of snow lying across the top.

Selah scanned her surroundings quickly to see no smugglers were looking her way before leaping off the towering outcrop. She had done this leap thousands of times during her training that it was now second nature to her. Selah opened her arms like wings of a swan dive, but to the Assassin she felt more like an eagle flying through the air. She manipulated her body to flip midair so she landed on the haystack on her back. The momentum of the impact threw the hay into the air and her body sunk into the pile, allowing a layer of hay to cover her. The Assassin quickly shifted some so she could blend even more. Now perfectly obscured, Selah positioned where she could peer out of the strands.

She saw three smugglers, two scrawny ones and a large, broad-shouldered man with an ax. One of the scrawny ones came from checking a pile of supplies (or Selah hoped he was just checking), joining his comrades by the fire.

“Jaysus, it’s bloody cold,” he cursed in a mild British accent. He vigorously rubbed his hands together, inching as close to the fire as he could. “I knew I should’ve gone to the West Indies.”

“Ah, heard it’s a mess down there,” the other scrawny man commented. “I rather move around supplies here.”

“At least we don’t have to move human cargo.”

“Ugh, that was a job.”

Selah’s stomach knotted. Human cargo? She strained her hearing as she listened intently.

“What was that for?” the big one spoke up.

“Had to transport and sell off some captured natives,” a smuggler replied. “They were caught working with the British.” The man snorted. “What a group of savages. Never doing a job like that again.”

“At least the pay was good.”

Another scoff.

“What was it, some slaving company?” the third one questioned.

“Nay, some absurd group.” The man paused in thought. Selah didn’t believe what he said next. “They call themselves the ‘Assassins.”

The big one laughed. “Assassins? What they do? Run around killing everyone?”

“Pretty much. They claim they protect the people’s freedom.”

Another loud chuckle. “And their selling slaves?”

“Oh, I heard there was a pair down in Georgia that owned hundreds,” the first one piped. “Mean to ‘em, too. Heard a story that one slave failed to secure a horse and it got loose. The brother had a fit and marred the lout.”

“Jaysus, glad I’m not down there,” the second gasped.

“Heard they’re dead now. Got caught by someone they call the ‘Assassin Hunter.’”

“Wonder who he is.”

“I don’t want to find out, if he’s a killer of killers.”

Selah ignored the last comment, instead trembling madly despite the warm cocoon of the hay. Slaves? The Assassins? Th-they would never! Achilles, the Mentor, was even a Negro. He would never condone such acts. She knew she had wondered about their methods—but this. The girl closed her eyes, remembering she had berated Haytham a long time ago for having servants. Now what was she to judge?

Where are you, Shay, the poor girl prayed.

Right on cue, there was a massive explosion from the other side of the camp. A sound of thunder assaulted Selah’s ears and the cart of her hiding place shook. From her vantage point, she could only see a thick cloud of smoke and the three smugglers whirling around. A second later, a loud, echoing scream came from the distance. But it wasn’t from pain. Instead it sounded of raw fury and animalistic wildness. Selah heard a yell from the direction of the source.

“John, what’s gotten into you? What are y—” The shout was cut off by a scream. This one was of agony.

“What the hell?!”

The three smugglers prepared to move, but Selah took her chance. In inhuman speed, the Assassin leaped from her hiding place, flying over to bury her hidden blade in the back of a smuggler’s skull. He only choked, eyes and mouth wide open. The other two whirled around with startled yells.

It was the man with the ax who struck first, unhooking his weapon and tossing it towards her head. Selah ducked out of the way just before it sliced her eyes. She instinctively pulled out her dagger, but her insides shriveled. No one bothered to give her a sword? Whatever, she could manage.

The smaller smuggler pulled out a flintlock to shoot her, but it would be a tragic mistake. With a sadistic smirk, Selah ducked around the large man so he was between her and the shooter. She moved at the last second, having the shooter flinch and fire into his comrade. The mercenary yelled in pain and the shooter flinched again. Selah took advantage of the opportunity to lunge. The Assassin plunged her hidden blade in the axman’s stomach before twisting around him to swipe her dagger at the other one.

The smuggler was swift though, moving away just in time. He pulled out a dagger of his own, swiping it at Selah. The girl sidestepped out of the way, holding up her weapon. The duo circled around each other like quarreling dogs, daring the other to move first. Abandoning her training, Selah pounced. However the man moved away, lashing an arm out to tangle it around hers. However the teenager anticipated the move, quickly wrapping around her leg around his, as she had done with Shay. She used the momentum to spin around him and to twist out of his grip. She didn’t hesitate to slice her blade into his spine. The man fell, dead.

The Assassin’s adversaries handled, Selah turned around for her next opponent. Instead she saw another brute racing around the camp, swinging his ax in a blind haze and letting out intelligible roars. The girl blinked. What in the world? Then without warning, the monster choked, dropping his weapon and gripping his chest. He crumbled, dead. While Selah only stared in bewilderment as another smuggler ran to his fallen comrade, leaning down to inspect the body.

He never got the chance, because suddenly a black shadow like a servant of Hades fell from the sky, landing on the smuggler. The man let out a dying scream as Shay buried his sword and dagger into his back. Another mercenary didn’t hesitate to pounce for the Templar, but the man was already leaping up, plunging his dagger into the smuggler’s eye.

Already half the camp was dead, and it had only lasted a few moments. But now they had lost the element of surprise. Selah watched Shay slip out of sight as he lunged to engage another opponent. The Assassin didn’t hesitate to sprint the distance and follow him.

Selah rounded the corner to see three smugglers had surrounded Shay like dogs taunting a bear. The teenager moved to aid him, but suddenly a yell split her ears and a shadow covered her vision. The apprentice used her dagger to swat the man’s sword away, leaping back out of his range. The man only followed her, swiping his sword again. Selah tried to slip past him to escape, but he snatched a handful of her hair and yanked her back. The girl cried, bringing her hands up to grab his arm. Before the smuggler could slice her throat, Selah twisted around, sheathing her hidden blade in his chest.

The man fell and Selah turned around to see Shay in combat, one of the mercenaries on the frozen ground in a pool of blood. The teenager jumped next to him, swatting away a bayonet that was aimed for his spine. The attacker’s eyes widened in surprise, allowing Selah to slip through his defenses and finish him. Suddenly a yell sounded behind her. The Assassin spun around to see a mercenary charging for her with a dagger.

He never got the chance as suddenly Shay appeared behind him. The ex-Assassin bent his arm backwards and wrapped it around the man’s neck. He forced the smuggler to bend backwards, plunging his dagger through his spine. The tip of the blade jutted out of the man’s stomach and there was sickening sound of breaking bones. Selah watched Shay released the corpse.

“Thanks,” she gasped, breathless.

“Consider it even,” the Templar replied. Suddenly his eyes widened. “Get down!”

Selah ducked, giving Shay space to pull out his flintlocks and fire at the mercenary that had aimed for them. He quickly fired a second pistol at another smuggler running at them. Selah looked up to see another attacker charging, aimed with a musket. Seeing a fallen musket near her, the Assassin snatched it in a desperate grasp. She aimed at the man and fired. He fell.

With a sigh, Selah collapsed, burying her eyes in the crook of her elbow. She heard Shay shift in the snow beside her.

“I think that’s all of them,” he sighed.

Selah only made a noise in response. She slowly climbed to her feet as the man moved away. Only a couple piles over, they realized it wasn’t all of them. A young smuggler, possibly in his early twenties, was collapsed against a crate of cargo. When he noticed the duo nearing, he scrambled to his feet with a cry. However before he could get away, Shay lunged in inhuman speed and snatched him roughly by the scruff. The boy cried as the Templar pinned him against a crate, an unforgiving hold on his clothing.

“Try anything funny, and I kill ya,” Shay threatened, regaining his dark tone. “We understand each other?”

The boy’s eyes were wide and he gave the smallest of glances at his fallen associates. “Uh-huh.”

Shay shifted as he adjusted his hold. “Who do you work for?”

“N-no one.”

“Oh, so you like freezing your arses off in the middle of the Atlantic?”

The boy swallowed, knowing lying didn’t do any good. “I… I don’t know.”

His captor cocked an eyebrow. “You don’t know who you work for?”

Another stutter. “N-no. A ship comes by every so often, to trade supplies. We’re given a list of ships to raid and we do it. I don’t know who it comes from—I just do what I’m told.”

“And who tells you?”

The smuggler cocked his head at a certain unmoving body. Shay rolled his eyes. “Can you at least tell me the name of this ship?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re not very bright, are you?”

“I swear! I don’t know!”

“You know I don’t really believe you. So either tell me what I want to know or you’re going to learn what being frozen is really like.”

Selah watched the interrogation with grating nerves, which she would thank later. It was because of her tension she noticed the prisoner’s fingers moving subtly, wrapping around something between the boxes of supplies. Selah gasped when she saw a glint.

“Shay!” she screamed.

Immediately the smuggler brought up a knife, slicing it at Shay’s throat. The Templar ducked away, but yelled when the blade caught his neck. He stumbled back clutching the wound, leaving the prisoner unrestrained. However instead of running, the boy gained a maniacal look.

“You Templars think you’re all that, don’t you?” he mocked. “When your days are numbered, Assassin Hunter!”

“Who do you work for?” Shay snarled savagely.

The smuggler grinned, sending shivers up and down Selah’s spine. “You’re murderers.”

Selah screamed at what he did next.

The gangster plunged his blade in his own throat.

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